Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Liberal Hubris + The Rising Tide Calling for Action on the Climate Crisis = #ClimateScam

"If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging," - Will Rogers

Perhaps Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party was bouyed this week by the headlines like "Liberal bleeding after SNC-Lavalin affair seems to have stopped: Leger poll," (CTV News, June 14 2019), "POLL: Trudeau Liberals Appear To Have Stopped Bleeding Support But Can The Conservatives Be Bloodied?" (LINK, June 18 2019), and "Poll shows sunny days continue for Justin Trudeau in Quebec" (the Montreal Gazette, June 19 2019).  

Or perhaps it was headlines about how the other parties are failing to connect with Canadians that might have put a little bounce in their step: "Conservatives feel the heat on climate change" (the Toronto Star, June 16 2019), and "NDP offers a New Deal for fans of interventionism, protectionism and fiscal insanity" (the National Post, June 17 2019). 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - the National Post
I mean - other than to point to Liberal optimism regarding their re-election chances - how else to explain what has to be one of the most significant displays of cognitive dissonance shown by any political party anywhere in the world - one that assumes that the voting public is primarily comprised of suckers?

Seriously.  How else can one explain how it came to be that the Liberal Party voted to declare a climate emergency and recommitting the the nation to meeting our Paris treaty climate targets on the evening of Monday, June 17th - and less than 24 hours later, that same Liberal Party approved building a new bitumen pipeline which will see production in the tar sands almost double by 2030, and lead to annual downstream emissions greater than those produced by the entire province of British Columbia.

Again - who do the Liberals think voters are?  Suckers?  There's really no other way to interpret this.

Things Fall Apart. The Status Quo Cannot Hold

Look, I understand completely that those wedded to the status quo think that Trudeau and the Liberals simply did what had to be done in order to maintain the facade of a climate consensus - even though Alberta, under new Premier Jason Kenney has rejected the carbon pricing aspect of that so-called consensus.  Status quo pundit Aaron Wherry, writing for status quo-supporting CBC, probably explained it best: 
Aaron Wherry - Youtube

"That neither Scheer nor Elizabeth May would end up very happy was inevitable. The hope, from the outset, was that somewhere between the loudest proponents of a pipeline and the loudest opponents, there could exist a significant number of voters willing to accept Trudeau's bargain.(see: "Like it or not, Trans Mountain is what a pipeline 'compromise' looks like," CBC, June 18 2019).

Of course Wherry writes as if this decision was a political decision - somehow devoid of any connection to the physical world.  Yes, I suppose that there does exist such a thing as political compromise (although I would argue that a decision that makes no one happy probably doesn't fit that bill - but Wherry and the CBC have the status quo to maintain, so go nuts).  But what appears to be lost on pundits like Wherry (and sorry if it seems that I'm picking on him here - because he is far from the worst) is that you can't compromise with chemistry.

You can't compromise with the reality that pumping more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere isn't going to "help" reduce the impacts of the climate crisis in this time of climate emergency.

But that's the fantasy the Liberals want us suckers to subscribe to.  It's that fantasy - that we can continue to burn, baby, burn, while simultaneously reducing emissions - that the Liberals are already campaigning for re-election on.  You and I know it's complete crap. And we also know that there are many other Canadians who reject taking meaningful action on the climate crisis.  But they're not likely to vote for the Liberals anyway.

People They Come Together.  People They Fall Apart.

The Liberals have really put themselves in a pickle here.  They are, on the one hand, trying to accuse the Conservatives of having zero credibility on the climate crisis (which is true), but on the other hand completely lacking in credibility themselves. The want voters to buy into the former, while ignoring the latter.  I'm sorry, but I think voters in increasing numbers are going to see through that.
Chantal Hebert - the Toronto Star

Chantal Hebert, however, doesn't see it that way.  She believes that the damage to the Liberal brand over Trans Mountain has already happened - and that this decision won't have much of an impact on the electorate.

"When it comes to this file the ruling Liberals paid the political cost up front, when they salvaged the project by taking the pipeline off the hands of its private sector owner. As of that point, many of the climate change activists who had high hopes that the prime minister was serious about addressing the issue decided he was all talk and no walk." (see: "Trudeau’s pipeline support may not be the political problem some think it will be," the Toronto Star, June 18 2019).

From where I'm sitting, I respectfully disagree.  I think a lot of the "activists" had already walked away from the Liberals shortly after Paris when it became obvious to anyone paying attention that Trudeau, having embraced Stephen Harper's inadequate emissions reductions targets, and allowed the National Energy Board to continue doing its thing - I think those actions spoke to climate change-concerned voters who gave the Liberals an assist in 2015.  The final nail in the coffin was likely Trudeau's 180 on electoral reform.  Most of those "activists" were never true Liberal supporters anyway (why would they be?) - and if they supported Trudeau in 2015, it probably had more to do with stopping Harper than it did with any optimism that Trudeau would do much to tackle the climate crisis.

But let's not quibble about specifics.  Hebert believes the "coalition" or whatever one might call it - was already broken, so this week's moves by the Liberals won't rattle loose many more supporters.  

Here's why I think she's likely to be wrong.  

Pride Goeth Before a Fall

Timing matters.  Trudeau handed a gift to the Greens and New Democrats by foolishly declaring a climate emergency on Monday, and then approving a pipeline on Tuesday.  If anyone thinks that Greens and New Democrats are going to stop talking about this hubris on the part of Trudeau and the Liberals - guess again.

And it really is hubris - a demon that the Liberal Party of Canada has some wrestling history with.  I know that the Liberals are entitled to their entitlements, but you do this enough and voters can't help but notice.  The bleeding from the LavScam scab might have finally stopped, but this week the Liberals picked open a fresh wound - call it #ClimateScam or whatever - it's going to bleed throughout the summer.  

Thing is, it's already been bleeding. In an earlier post of mine from last week, "Is the Green Party Ready to Capitalize on the Liberal Party's Collapse?" I took a close look at some of the trends that we've been seeing emerge in the lead-up to the October election.  My main thesis was that the Green Party needs to figure out how we're going to prepare ourselves for the level of support that we are likely to have in the days before the writ drops.  I remain concerned about this issue - and a recent poll from EKOS does not ease my anxiety no matter how much it might provoke me to jump and scream with delight.
EKOS Polling - from Burnaby News Now, June 18 2019
Earlier this week, EKOS pegged the Green Party's national support level at 13.2% - statistically ahead of the NDP, which had fallen to 12%.  That's a huge story - one that Greens on social media have been quick to promote.  And why wouldn't we?  It really is a huge story - although one that needs to be taken with a grain of salt, given that EKOS always tends to over-estimate the level of Green support.  That, however, might be in part due to voters changing their mind at the ballot box.  Anyway, whether EKOS is optimistic here or not - this is just one poll, and we ought never get too excited about a single poll.

But it does reinforce a trend. There is no denying the polls show the level of Green Party support rising.  And Green parties at the provincial level here in Canada, and elsewhwere in the world, are all generally seeing an increase in support.  The trend isn't just national - it's global.  And I think Hebert neglects to consider that it's not activists who are driving this trend - but instead a population that is becoming increasingly woke to the climate crisis.  

And once woke, there's a good chance that the electorate is going to stay woke - thanks to demographic changes that now show that in 2019 millennials are the largest cohort of (potential) voters.  

The 100th (Climate) Monkey

Could we possibly be witnessing the emergence of the 100th climate crisis monkey?  Ya, I think we are - the tide is so high right now, there's no turning it back.  I think that Justin Trudeau is going to find himself playing the role of King Canute now.  I suspect that globally, he's going to have some company.
Already progressive voters are seeing through Liberal hubris.  The real story of this week's EKOS poll isn't how the Greens and NDP have switched places nationally.  The real story is buried in the provincial voter intention breakdown.  It starts in British Columbia, where the Green Party, now polling at 24%, has displaced both the New Democrats (13%) and the Liberals (22%).  Watch what the polls say about battleground B.C. over the next month.  I expect the story to be a collapse in Liberal support there.

But take a look at what's going on in Quebec, too - where the Greens have inexplicably risen to 15%.  And I say "inexplicably" for good reason.  The Party has almost zero history in Quebec.  We don't exactly offer a Quebec-friendly array of policies - it's not that we're anti-Quebec or anything like that - it's just that we've never really given thought to Quebec, specifically. Our leader doesn't speak french all that well.  And the provincial Parti-Vert has found itself almost at war with the federal party in the recent past.  There is no good reason why Greens should be at 15% in Quebec - especially when the NDP is down to 9% there.

And in Atlantic Canada, the Green Party is consolidating it's position as the 3rd place party.  Maybe a New Democrat or two can get themselves elected in Newfoundland and Labrador - but the Maritimes have closed their doors to the NDP.
Greg Malone - courtesy

And even in Newfoundland and Labrador, Greens are making a play.  It was announced yesterday that comedian and social activist Greg Malone - one of Newfoundland and Labrador's most well-known citizens - will be representing the Green Party in Avalon (see: "Codco star Greg Malone to run for federal Green party in Newfoundland this fall," the Canadian Press, June 18 2019).  I still think Malone has his work cut out for him - but his public support of the Green Party just upped our profile on the Rock in a huge way.

#GreenSurge and #ClimateScam

Again, this is all just one poll - but if these trends hold, the Liberals are going to be in deep trouble when the writ finally drops.  The #GreenSurge is undeniably real - as is the current collapse of the New Democratic Party.  The Liberals themselves may only lose a few points over the summer months, but if Trudeau finds his party at 25% in the polls, facing off against a Green Party that is consistently polling between 15% and 18% nationally (and, say, 30% in BC), the Liberals are done. Done done done.

I caution that this is not to say that I expect the Greens to pull off some sort of huge victory in October - because I don't.  What I do expect is that the narrative that the Liberals will try to use on voters again - the old "vote for us because the Conservatives are scary and a vote for the NDP and Greens is wasted" - well, that's not going to work.

This week's dissonance matters.  And the worst part for the Liberals is that it didn't have to go down this way.  Why on earth did no one in the Liberal brain trust tweak to the fact that the optics of declaring a climate emergency one day and approving a pipeline the next might not be in the Liberal Party's best interests?

Hubris.  There's no other explanation.

And hubris will be the Liberal Party's undoing.  Welcome to #ClimateScam.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Changing Climate Conversation

Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” -Greta Thunberg, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee (see: “‘I want you to panic’: Climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, lays it on the line for world leaders,” Women in the World, January 29, 2019)

Our house – or more specifically, our planetary human civilization – is facing an existential threat.  For the last couple of decades, we have benignly referred to this threat as “anthropogenic climate change” or just “climate change” – terms that fail to conjure up much of an emotional reaction or convey the true extent of the threat.

It’s hard to get too excited about “change” in the 21st Century, when change itself is the one thing – maybe the only thing – we expect to be a constant in our lives.  And maybe that’s why we haven’t been all that worked up about “climate change”, generally speaking.  

Up until quite recently, anyway.

Have you noticed the change in conversations about climate change? More often now we aren’t talking about “climate change” at all – but rather about a “climate crisis”, or “climate breakdown”. Instead of the passive idea of a changing climate, we now talk about a “climate emergency”. And we’re talking about it in our newspapers, in our municipal council chambers – and in our legislatures. We’re talking about it on social media and at family gatherings. The idea that we are in the midst of a climate emergency has suddenly become ubiquitous.

This change in the discussion around climate change has left some on the right side of the political spectrum a little upset.  The political right has been reluctant to engage in discussions about climate change, and continues to provide cover for some who deny the science. It’s no wonder some on the right are having a hard time keeping up with a  public that is demanding climate action.  It’s no wonder they are being left behind by a millennial cohort that understands the existential threat of the climate crisis – and has no time for those who don’t want to do anything about it.

Change is inevitable – and it’s really no surprise that we have moved towards a more precise and accurate description of the existential threat posed by the addition of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere.  The conversation has been seriously shifting since the latter part of 2018, thanks largely to two notable events.  One was the publication of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s Special Report (see: “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN,” The Guardian, October 8, 2018). It laid out in stark terms that the world has just 12 years to take meaningful action to reduce emissions in order to keep the global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. This report interjected a significant degree of urgency into climate discussions. 

And of course, there’s Greta Thunberg, who burst onto the world scene as a 15-year old dynamo who has inspired a global youth movement of climate strikers (see: “Greta Thunberg,” Wikipedia).  Thunberg has made it her mission to speak truth to power – and although those in power may not want to hear her message demanding urgent and meaningful action, it’s a message that has clearly resonated with common people.

The climate emergency is already leading to global political upheaval. For too long, our political leaders have focused on doing as little as they could, implementing only the politically possible as a cover for business as usual. That’s inevitably changing now, and as the discussion shifts from the doing the possible to doing what’s necessary, our political and economic status quo will be further upended. 

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: The evolving climate change conversation," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday June 15, 2019 - without hyperlinks.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Is the Green Party Ready to Capitalize on the Liberal Party's Collapse?

Are Greens ready to capitalize on the imminent collapse of the Liberal Party?

Say what?  "The imminent collapse of the Liberal Party"?  How is that a thing?  Didn't the Liberals just "survive" LavScam?  Isn't Justin Trudeau's Party currently polling in a statistical tie with Andrew Scheer's Conservatives?  Why on earth would any rationally-minded person be predicting that the Liberal Party is about to collapse - much less wonder aloud if the Green Party is ready for it (because clearly Greens aren't even thinking about the Liberals right now).

And yet here I am.  And here's where Canada is at right now, according to 338Canada - the national opinion poll aggregator.
338Canada - National Political Party Polling - May 31 2019
The Liberals are starting to pull even with the Conservatives, but clearly they've lost some ground since the (arbitrary beginning date of) November 25th date on the left hand side of the graphic (Libs were at 37% in November 2018; they're down to 32% now).

The Conservatives, though, seem to have fallen off a little - but that could be a blip.  Nevertheless, the Cons were at 32% in November 2018, and now they're up at 33.8.  An increase of just 1.8%.  Nothing to write home about, right?

And the NDP?  Well they've flatlined.  Started at 15.7% and they're now at 16.2%.  Nothing to see there.

But the Greens - we've really been surging, right?  I mean we were at a paltry 7% in November 2018 - and we've risen to an paltry 11% at the end of May.  We're up a total of 4% - which is actually less than the Liberals have fallen by.  So tell me again about that "Green Surge"?

The Green Surge

OK, since I asked myself about it, I will.  The numbers don't lie.  4% is not a lot of movement for national political parties - but it's also nothing to sneeze at.  Polls that show a variation of 4% between polling periods might be just blips (outliers) - but when poll after poll after poll shows that there is a trend - well, 4% isn't huge.  No one is going to panic.  But in the case of the Liberals and Conservatives, 5% saw the Libs move from a healthy lead and majority government territory in November, 2018 to potentially confronting a Conservative minority on the day after E-day.

A slight shift for sure - but one that can markedly change outcomes.

But even that assessment doesn't do justice to what's happening with the Green Party.  And here are two reasons why:

First, a 4% increase in popular support actually represents a 63% increase in Party support.  If we get to 14%, that will be double the level of support we had in November, 2018.  

But why use that arbitrary date as the starting point?  Surely the 2015 election results would be a better place to start, no?  Given that the election itself was a strong measure of support for our Party via people actually voting for Green candidates.  

Well, in the 2015 election, Greens received only 3.4% of the national vote.  Which means that a support level of 11% is actually over 300% what we received on E-day 2015.  And that's a big number.  Is that even a real number?  Nevermind - because 11% likely isn't a real number yet either - given that there is an observed trend of about 1/4 of Green Supporters abandoning the Party on E-days and casting ballots for someone else.  Don't be fooled into thinking 11% is for real - it's probably closer to 8%.  But even 8% is over twice the level of support we had on E-Day 2015.

And here's the second thing: while our supporters might be spread out across the country - something which has typically worked to our disadvantage - that's not entirely the case this time around.  We now likely have pockets of Green supporters in key, winnable ridings like Saanich-Gulf Islands, Nanaimo-Ladysmith, Victoria, Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, Fredericton, Guelph and Malpeque.  Maybe a few more.  Maybe.

We're on the move throughout the country, too - and we've actually overtaken the NDP in Atlantic Canada as the third Party there (but even that's deceiving - we've only got 4% of the support in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we're up to 19% in New Brunswick and 22% in Prince Edward Island - see: "Federal Liberals and Conservatives in statistical tie in Atlantic Canada ahead of 2019 election, while Green Party support rises," Corporate Research Associates, June 5 2019).

The point is, these national and regional levels of support are the highest the Green Party has ever seen - but there is a high likelihood that at the riding level, the Green vote might be more concentrated in a few ridings than this level of support suggests - and that can (and will) lead to more Greens being elected.

That's the good news.  The bad news is the ridings that I've identified above probably represents the complete list of ridings where we've got a decent shot at winning today.  And how many was that? Just 7.

So what are Greens to do?

Well, let's assess some of the other trends that we're seeing - and will likely see - first.

The People's Party

Remember when Greens were saying, "Don't worry - you can vote Green in good conscience this time, because the Conservatives aren't going to win - thanks to the presence of the People's Party, which will surely eat into Conservative support."  Well, that hasn't happened, and it's not going to happen.  Maybe it will happen in the odd riding where a popular local candidate runs, which could change the dynamics on the ground there.  But the People's Party has proven to be a flop - and will likely continue to poll very low throughout the summer and into the fall.  So all else being equal, their presence will have little to no effect on the outcome of the general election.

The New Democrats

The NDP has some serious issues that it needs to face.  First, a number of prominent NDP MP's won't be running gain in 209 - which means that voters will be confronted with new names and faces in NDP-held ridings.  Second, the NDP has completely flat-lined under leader Jagmeet Singh - and the media narrative around that Party has been all about how Singh and the New Democrats don't have their act together.  Whether that's true or not doesn't matter - the media has raised serious doubts about the viability of the NDP - and we Greens have probably been the biggest beneficiaries.

Third: Quebec.  The NDP is probably toast in Quebec.  Maybe Boulerice will hold on, but other than his riding, they are done. Toast.  And if anyone thinks that this isn't going to play into the media narrative about the New Democrats, they need to think again.  The loss of Quebec - the province that Jack took - is huge.

Can we legitimately expect the NDP to start polling better than they are now?  I believe the answer is Yes - but I don't think they've hit rock bottom yet.  But when the writ drops and the campaign really gets going, don't count on the NDP to finish up on e-day with just 15% of the vote.  Here's why:

The Liberals

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should have resigned during that first week of the SNC-Lavalin crisis.  A fresh face at the Liberal helm would have been much better positioned to weather than crisis - and to weather the on-coming ad blitz that will be directed at dragging the Liberal leader through the mud in a way that no Liberal leader ever has been before (ok - Kathleen Wynne excepted).

Here's the thing: People already hate Trudeau.  It's not just a matter of disliking him. They hate him.  And that hatred will continue to grow.  It will be fueled by the massive Conservative Party ad buy and the spending of their Ontario Proud-like surrogates.  Every little thing he does will be put under the microscope, dissected, killed off, bandaged back up like some sick Frankenstein's monster, and unleashed on unsuspecting consumers of social media.  

When the attacks really get going, ask yourself this: Would the Cons have been able to hit as hard against Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland?

I fully expect Liberal Party support to plummet - maybe to go as low as 20%.  That's a huge shift.  But Trudeau is under siege - and not just from the right. We Greens are doing our part to sink "Canada's Natural Governing Party" (in part due to their own arrogance).  And New Democrats are a part of the pile-on too.  As Liberal support slips, expect both the NDP and the Greens to be the primary beneficiaries.  

Note, however, that this probably will not happen until mid-way through the actual campaign.  We're talking about late-September here.  And that's the reason I think the NDP is going to be able to make more hay than we Greens will.  The NDP will be running a full national campaign - just as they always have done.  Singh will be in the public eye in a way that May just won't be able to be, once the writ drops.  That's the time for the NDP to start making up ground on the Greens - and they will.  And they will benefit from Trudeau's collapse.

Or do you think a Liberal collapse is unlikely?  I understand that not everyone is going to be on board with that prediction.  I get that one should never count the Liberals out.  But I also lived through what happened here in Ontario and all of the hatred and invective that was directed towards the embodiment of the Liberal government here in the person of Kathleen Wynne.  And let's face it: Trudeau is no Wynne, and his government is hardly doing the same sorts of things that Wynne's did in the lead-up to the election.  Wynne at least knew that she was in trouble.  Trudeau and the federal Liberals appear intent on continuing to believe that they're going to sail to victory.  

It's not going to happen.

Wither the Green Party?

So where does this leave the Green Party?  Some are suggesting that Greens should roll the dice - go all in on replacing the NDP as Canada's third party (hey!  those are seriously high stakes for the Green Party!) - maybe by electing a couple of dozen MP's.  It sounds like a great idea - but it also sounds like a fantasy.  Frankly, the Green Party is in no position to capitalize on our new-found success to any degree beyond what I've already identified here.  We've got 7 winnable ridings - maybe 3 or 4 more that we could be competitive in.  Those should be the limit to our ambition this time out.

Now I know that the climate crisis demands action, and we've only got 11 years left to take it in a meaningful way.  The bigger the contingent of Greens we send to Ottawa, the more likely they'll have an impact on Canada's ability to shift gears and get serious.  Look, I'd love to see 24 Green MP's - but it just isn't going to happen.

First off, our Party does not have the resources to mount a national campaign.  Lucky for us, about half of these winnable ridings are clustered together in B.C., so that is where Elizabeth May is going to be spending a lot of time.  May's presence in B.C. works against out ability to mount an effective national campaign, because: 1) she's going to be spending a lot of time in just one region, and; 2) that region finds itself at the tail-end of the mainstream media news cycle.  Meaning that just as newsworthy announcements are being made in Nanaimo, they're shutting off the lights in Moncton and heading to bed.  With a 24-hour news cycle, that might not seem like much - but trust me, this kind of stuff still matters.

And here are a few other things about resources.  Our Party just doesn't have the cash to mount an effective national campaign, even if we wanted to.  Also, since our Party has never run a national campaign, we don't have much in the way of experience doing so - and we certainly don't have the infrastructure in place to support a national campaign (we haven't planned for it, so it's not there).  National campaigns rely on candidate discipline at the local level - staying on and repeating messaging so that the word of the day constantly gets out.

Have you ever been to a Green Party meeting?  Can you really imagine a hand-full of Green candidates submitting to the diktat of a national campaign chair?  Have you ever tried herding sheep?

The NDP, though, have this whole national campaign thing down pat.  And that's why when push comes to shove, and Justin Trudeau is being buried in mud by his opponents on the right and buried in facts and evidence from his opponents on the left, it's going to be Jagmeet Singh's NDP who will be strategically positioned to pick up the lion's share of support.

Moderate Those Growing Expectations

Look, I love the idea of a Green Surge - and surge we must keep doing throughout the summer. But once the writ drops and it's game on, Greens won't be the "story" any longer.  Andrew Scheer will be the story, and to an extent so will be the collapse of the Liberal Party and the NDP's rebound.  We will be lucky to hold on to the support that we have come e-day.  If we are polling at 15% support in early September, I personally will be very happy with 8% of the vote come election day - as long as we elect those 7 MPs.

Is there anything the Green Party can do between now and September that will give us a legitimate option to roll the dice?  Can we maybe take out a huge loan and advertise, Advertise, ADVERTISE?  We could - but we will still be deficient with people in the right places, ready to connect, to undertake a national campaign.  Advertising is important - but the game on the ground is important too.  And we just don't have the volunteers, or know how to put them to use effectively if they do start showing up.  We don't know how to run effective campaigns outside of a small number of ridings.

So no, I wouldn't suggest going into debt on an advertising blitz.  Let's stick to the game plan that's been in place all along - with a focus on winnable ridings. Let's continue to build support at the local and national level, but let's not let the support that we've accumulated already go to our heads.  

And maybe then in the next election - after 4 long years of Conservative majority government in a time of climate crisis - we Greens will be ready to replace the ineffective and much-reviled Liberal Party.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Kingsway Cases at the LPAT: An (Unrepresented) Party's Observations, Part 10: Shenanigans

In my April 30, 2019 blogpost, "The Kingsway Cases at the LPAT: An (Unrepresented) Party's Observations, Part 9: Going Through the Motions," I updated readers on the KED cases at the LPAT - and specifically on a number of motions that were filed by some of the parties back before Christmas.  At this time, there is nothing further to update on with regards to those motions, as the LPAT has not yet ruled.  

I think it's fair to say that the Parties had been waiting for the Toronto Rail Deck matter to be resolved first by Divisional Court - but that matter came and went and there has still been no movement (for an excellent synopsis of the Rail Deck case, see this piece by Sudbury dot com reporter Darren MacDonald - "Ontario court backs LPAT process, but what that means for KED opponents is unclear," sudbury dot com, May 21 2019).

By all rights, the Rail Deck decision should have allowed for the KED matters to proceed - but the whole LPAT now appears to be upended by planned changes to the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal Act by the provincial government.  Whether these changes to how the LPAT holds hearings will impact the Sudbury KED matters remains to be seen.  Hopefully, there will be some clarification around this before too long.  But if the Sudbury KED appeals are to be caught up in the changes which will turn the LPAT into something a little more like the OMB, it's probably going to have an impact on the motions that have already been filed (although it's not clear how - which could lead to having to re-file the motions, or maybe not filing some of them at all).

The Word of the Day is Uncertainty

Uncertainty remains the word of the day.  And that's causing a lot of anxiety for some of the parties - particularly those who have big money tied up in this process.  I can't help but feel a little sorry for the developer, Dario Zulich, and Gateway Casinos.  Nobody anticipated these sorts of hold-ups when decisions were made and appeals were filed.  But the City really did roll the dice here with the whole unplanned Kingsway Entertainment District thing. 

Consider: The City's official plan, Downtown Master Plan and Economic Development Plan all contemplated a marquee arena/events centre facility in the City's downtown core.  Those long-term plans were completely upended on the night of June 27, 2017 when Council defeated a motion via a tie vote to put a new arena/event centre in the downtown.  It took just 6 rogue councillors to overturn years of planning informed through public engagement to nix a downtown arena - despite a consultant's report that recommended the downtown as the best available location for this public service facility.

Having killed the downtown option, Council then voted to put an arena on the Kingsway on lands they were told needed to be first rezoned.  Council was warned by their consultants that there would likely be appeals of the land use decisions that would end up in front of the Ontario Municipal Board.  But the Kingsway was nevertheless selected, with many members of Council indicating that a new arena could proceed in partnership at that location with a casino and potentially other entertainment based amenities.

Greater Sudburians found out after the fact the City had already entered into an agreement for landowner Dario Zulich to develop the Kingsway with an arena and a casino and other facilities. It's unbelievable that Council didn't know about this agreement before the arena vote - yet they pretended that the arena and casino were not linked.  Mayor Bigger even tried to introduce a motion that would have held Zulich responsible for providing the many other amenities that he said he would provide (including a casino and a motorsports park) - but despite this motion being little different that the agreement Zulich had already entered into with the City, it was voted down.

Council did direct staff to undertake changing land use permissions as quickly as possible.  But nevertheless, the City waited for complete applications to be submitted by the developer in December, 2017 - losing a precious 5 months in the process.  A lot of heads were scratched with regards to why the land use process took so long to move forward with, given Council's direction for haste - but the City was aware that changes to the Ontario Municipal Board were on the horizon - and that any applications deemed to be complete after a certain date in early December 2017 would follow new rules at the LPAT - rules which were reported to be more in the City's favour than those of the former OMB.

But the LPAT has turned out to be a rabbit hole - because those new rules have not been as clear as many would have liked them to be.  And now that there is finally some certainty around those rules, thanks to the Rail Deck decision, the provincial government is poised to throw the baby out with the bathwater and alter the LPAT so as to create what might prove to be some sort of LPAT-OMB hybrid.  Perhaps this government will do a better job than the last when it comes to drawing up legislation, regulation and rules that anticipate every potential twist and turn that a land use appeal might take before it's resolved.  We'll just have to wait and see.


But while the parties have been waiting for the LPAT, a number of other things have been going on.

Remember that time when the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party enlisted the help of provincially-registered lobbyists to sell tickets to a $1,250-a-person partisan fundraiser?  Well, if you don't remember, that cash-for-access fundraiser caused quite a stir in that the Conservatives had just changed the provincial rules around this sort of thing, backsliding on progressive changes made by the Liberals under former Premier Kathleen Wynne that would have appropriately separated lobbyists, cabinet minister and partisan political money from one another (see: "Doug Ford defends fundraising dinner amid cash-for-access criticisms," the Globe and Mail, February 22 2019).

Shenanigans for sure - but what does that have to do with Sudbury?

Doug Ford

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford and Dario Zulich
Apparently, quite a bit - as this photo with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Kingsway Entertainment District developer Dario Zulich shows.  It looks like Mr. Zulich was in attendance at the cash-for-access event with the Premier and met with him - at least for a photo-op.  In and of itself that may be interesting, but a lot of people met with and had their photo taken with the Premier on that night of February 27, 2019 at the pricey partisan event.

But the photo-op might not be the whole story.  Looks like Councillor Robert Kirwan scooped the rest of the local media with regards to just what, exactly, Zulich and Ford discussed that night.  As reported by Councillor Kirwan on his Valley East Facebook group, Zulich spoke with the Premier specifically about the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal and how it has impacted his development proposal. 

Councillor Robert Kirwan's VEFB post

For those paying attention, and in retrospect, it looks very much like Dario Zulich got everything he asked for from the Premier at this cash-for-access event.  With the government now moving forward to change the LPAT Act, ostensibly to cut red tape and make the development process happen more quickly, one can't help but wonder if Zulich had more luck with the Doug Ford, Leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party than Mayor Brian Bigger did in 2018 when he wrote a secret letter to Premier Doug Ford and asked for his "intervention" with the LPAT (see: "Signoretti 'has lost faith' in Bigger over letter to Doug Ford," the Sudbury Star, October 17 2018). 

But the changes Zulich wanted the Ontario PC Leader/Premier to make were, apparently, not good enough for Councillor Kirwan.  Recently, Councillor Kirwan introduced a motion to Council that would have seen the City send Mayor Bigger to Toronto specifically to ask the Premier to intervene further in the LPAT process (see: "Tempers flare as Ward 5 councillor tries to rope premier into KED battle," Sudbury dot com, May 29 2019).  After significant discussion around the Council table that saw the motion referred to by some on Council as "political interference" and compared to the federal Liberal's LavScam, Council defeated the motion in a troubling vote of 8-5 - troubling because 5 members of Council supported Kirwan's call to lobby the Premier to intervene on the side of the City in a quasi-judicial process.  But at least this time, adherence to the Rule of Law prevailed over political interference.

Game Playing

Coupled with the process uncertainty around the LPAT itself, all of this game playing by the developer and the City has left the appellants more than a little concerned.  Tom Fortin, the primary figure behind Casino-Free Sudbury, and Jeff MacIntyre, the Downtown Sudbury BIA's former Chair and current spokesperson on the LPAT appeals, and John Lindsay of the Minnow Lake Restoration Group in particular have had to deal with a public smear-jobs that originate with Councillor Robert Kirwan via columns published in our local newspapers and posts made to his Valley East Facebook Group.  

The uncertainty around the LPAT process due to Rail Deck and changes announced by the provincial government, and the lack of ruling on the City's motion related to jurisdiction and the Fortin/BIA motions related to fettering and "willing host" (discussed in Part 9 of this series) have led Fortin and the BIA to file a Notice of Application with the Ontario Superior Court.  This filing will safeguard their rights to appeal to the Superior Court some or all of the LPAT's rulings - rights that may be infringed upon by provincial changes (see: "More delays possible for Sudbury's Kingsway Entertainment District," CBC News, May 23 2019 - and see specifically comments from Jeff MacIntyre, in the middle of the piece).  The City has not been served with any filing - and may never be served.

Kirwan's Plan to Kill the BIA

But the Superior Court filing appears to have unhinged Councillor Kirwan - who ran to the media with his new plan for success at the LPAT (and in front of the Courts).  That Plan would see the City of Greater Sudbury kill the Downtown Sudbury BIA - effectively removing one of the appellants (see: "City councillor targets Sudbury downtown business group," the Sudbury Star, May 22 2019).  

Killing an organization with a history of promoting local businesses in the downtown core to ease the way for the development of a casino on private property is bad enough.  In fact, it's pretty egregious.  But it gets worse.  In making his case to destroy the BIA, the Councillor appears to have written a number of things about the BIA in local media and in his Facebook group that are simply not true.  Kirwan accuses the BIA of having filed the appeal to the LPAT for the purpose of delaying the KED projects - and not based on any land use concerns.  He has also referred to the Notice of Application filed with the Superior Court as "legal action against the City" as part of effort to have the Court "quash the four by-laws that were approved by council" even though that's demonstrably not the case (see: "Sudbury column: Why the downtown BIA should be scrapped," Robert Kirwan, the Sault Star, May 24 2019).

Disingenuously, Councillor Kirwan indicates that repealing the by-law that created the Downtown BIA will actually allow the BIA to have a greater deal of freedom with the LPAT - presuming that it is able to reconstitute itself on its own terms.  This is complete and utter nonsense of course, as BIA's are created as per provincial legislation that requires municipal approval (you can't just go out and sign up your business buddies and Presto! You're a BIA).  And second, it ignores the reality that when a Party ceases to be a corporate entity (or a corporeal entity if you're someone like me!), they are no longer a Party to the matter before the Tribunal.  So even a reconstituted BIA could not take the place of the existing BIA at the Tribunal.

Councillor Kirwan vowed to bring this matter forward, quickly.  Prior to last week's public Council meeting, Council did meet behind closed doors to discuss matters related to the KED appeals - and it could very well be that it was at that in-camera meeting the Councillor Kirwan relayed to his fellow members of Council his strategy to win at the LPAT by disappearing one of the primary appellants.  Deputy Mayor Sizer reported back on the closed meeting during the open meeting and indicated that the matter had not been resolved.

The BIA Fires Back

Clearly, the Downtown Sudbury BIA is now facing a life-or-death situation thanks to Councillor Kirwan's mean-spirited attempt to kill the BIA after years of service to the Sudbury community.  But the BIA has refused to roll over and play dead for the Councillor.  After writing demonstrably untrue things about the BIA's motivation for filing the LPAT appeals, the on-going smear campaign being waged by Councillor Kirwan against the BIA and individual volunteers of the Association like Jeff MacIntyre, these recent outbursts about the Notice of Application to Superior Court appear to be the straw that's broken the camel's back - or more correctly, stiffened its spine of resolve.  

Last week, the Downtown Sudbury BIA made public that they had filed a request to the City of Greater Sudbury's Integrity Commissioner to investigate Councillor Kirwan for what the BIA believes are breaches to the City's Code of Conduct for municipal councillors (see: "Kirwan's 'misleading the public' BIA says in lodging formal complaint against councillor who wants them disbanded," Sudbury dot com, May 30 2019).  The BIA believes that the Councillor is trying to intimidate the BIA as part of an effort to get them to back down on the LPAT appeals.  The BIA writes:

"It is our contention that Coun. Kirwan has knowingly and wilfully been misleading the public regarding the basic facts of this project and the challenges it faces; has knowingly and wilfully defamed the appellants, including Downtown Sudbury and named individuals; and has knowingly and wilfully spread discord across the city in a co-ordinated attempt to deter members of the community from pursuing lawful recourse against a decision of city council; and he has done all of these things in contravention of the City of Greater Sudbury’s Code of Conduct.”

Of course, Councillor Kirwan doesn't see it that way.  In response to the BIA's letter to the Integrity Commissioner, posted on Valley East, Councillor Kirwan explains that he'll "let the Integrity Commissioner deal with the complaint" (which is big of him, considering it's the IC's job to do just that).  The Councillor then goes on to accuse the BIA of being a "political organization" which is rich given that the BIA has no mandate to get involved in politics.  What the BIA is really doing is participating in a legislatively prescribed land use process. It has the right to do this.  It also has the right to go to the courts to look out for its interests.  Neither of these are "political" processes.  

Councillor Kirwan than compounds his problems with the IC (in my opinion) by claiming that the BIA actually admits that it "threatened" Council.  The BIA did no such thing, of course - unless one views filing an appeal of a municipal land use decision to the LPAT as a "threat".  I certainly don't see it that - given that the process for appeal is prescribed in legislation.  This accusation is simply egregious and confounds logic.

And finally, Councillor Kirwan reiterates that the BIA knowingly filed an appeal that had no land use planning grounds and was instead file only to delay the project.  This is in complete contradiction of reality, of course.  The BIA's appeal was determined to be valid by the LPAT after they applied a lens to it to determine whether the appeal specifically raised land use planning reasons.  The LPAT's validity determination of the BIA's appeal was not challenged by the City.  The City has not made a motion to have the BIA's appeal dismissed on the grounds that it was filed "for the purpose of delay" as Councillor Kirwan contends.  One might think that if the Councillor were right about this, the City's legal team would be all over it.  That, of course, hasn't happened - and that's one of the reasons why the BIA contends that they are being smeared by the Councillor.

Valley East's Downtown Smear Campaign
BIA Letter to the IC - Downtown Hate

But that's not all.  The BIA also accuses Councillor Kirwan of being front and centre of a co-ordinated smear campaign against the downtown - including calls for boycotts of downtown businesses - through Councillor Kirwan's moderation of his Valley East Facebook group.  On the surface, this accusation has significant merit, as posts made to Valley East demonstrate that it's a hotbed for downtown hatred.  But although the Councillor is the group moderator, questions will always linger about whether he, as a municipal Councillor, has any role to play to shut down the hate directed at local businesses in another part of the City.

Of course what might seem strange to readers of this blog who are not citizens of Greater Sudbury is why a municipal Councillor would tolerate this sort of stuff (downtown hate; calls for boycotting local businesses; smears and lies about local business owners) being posted to his Facebook group in the first place.  But here we are.  And let me just say that Councillor Kirwan's Valley East Facebook group is a really unusual place - unlike just about any group that I've ever seen run by an elected official.

And it's with that in mind that the BIA's complaint to the Integrity Commissioner raises the issue of just who might be paying for all of this anti-downtown invective - and whether local business owners in the Valley are funding it, knowingly or (more likely) otherwise.

BIA Letter to IC - Advertorials on Valley East

You see, Councillor Kirwan has figured out a way to monetize Facebook. It's long been a bit of a dirty little secret here in Greater Sudbury, but the reality is that viewing the Valley East Facebook group is like going to a Public Meeting to listen to your member of Council expound about the latest municipal initiatives that he wants you to know about, and to field your questions about municipal issues. But interjected throughout those discussions are exhortations to "shop at Macey's if you're looking for a good deal", while Macey's slips a cheque for services rendered into the Councillor's pocket.

Example of "Education-Based Marketing" post on Valley East

Seriously.  Councillor Kirwan refers to this as an "education based marketing" initiative.  Others would call it "advertising".  A few others would call it using one's position as elected municipal councillor to drive people people to your site to hear about municipal business and deriving a monetary benefit from local businesses that get promoted there.  And a few others might suggest that these advertisers are, in part, contributing to the invective against the downtown - again, perhaps unknowingly.  But the reality is if you're a business that's spending money to promote your business on a site that tolerates hate and calls for boycotts of other businesses - guess what?  You too are implicated by association.  That's why campaigns like Sleeping Giants have been successful in convincing business owners to spend their money elsewhere.

You can hear more about Valley East and Councillor Kirwan's "education-based marketing" initiative in this September 16, 2016 piece from Canadaland, "When Your Councillor Spams You On Facebook".  When this piece was recorded, the City of Greater Sudbury did not have an Integrity Commissioner with whom to lodge complaints about the conduct of Council (nor did it have a Code of Conduct for Council).  That's changed since then, and although I understand that the City's new Integrity Commissioner is also under the impression that the Valley East Facebook group is out of his jurisdiction (it not being an authorized City of Greater Sudbury site), I think the IC is going to have to take a hard look at the shenanigans that are going on there with regards to Valley East's on-going smear campaign against the Downtown Sudbury BIA, Jeff MacIntyre and Tom Fortin - and just who, exactly, is benefiting from Councilor Kirwan's anti-downtown invective.  
From 2016 - Councillor Kirwan explains how he benefits from discussing City business

Councillor Kirwan maintains that the Valley East Facebook group is a media site - and not a site for official Ward 5 business (he is the Councillor for Ward 5 - and he does have another Facebook group ostensibly for Ward 5-related business).  But as this post from 2016 shows, even he has never been quite able to separate things clearly.  On the one hand, he here admonishes a group member and writes that if "anyone has a specific question dealing with Ward 5 they can go to the other site."  But if "it is something related to City Council they come here because they know I can provide them with information."  He clearly understands that these discussions around City business are of political benefit (his "profile in the community") and fiscal benefit ("it benefits my business").  Apparently that's not a problem for him.

(the reference in this 2016 post to Valley East having 7,000 members is also interesting, as the Valley East group now has swollen to over 14,000 members - many of whom use the group to keep abreast with what's going on at City Hall.  In some ways, what Councillor Kirwan is doing with Valley East is quite commendable - a lot of his municipal posts really do keep the public informed about the latest municipal initiatives.  But the anti-downtown smear campaign has been a huge problem.  And the fact that he has monetized the group is a huge concern).

When you're a municipal councillor encouraging people to avoid downtown businesses (by publicly attacking the business organization that represents those businesses, and by not culling anti-downtown posts from your moderated site) while promoting Valley businesses - and accepting money for doing so - you know what? I think that's a problem. I think the Integrity Commissioner might see it that way too - but only time will tell.

In a way, I can't wait to get on with the LPAT hearing so that this on-going saga can be brought to an appropriate conclusion. 

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)